The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department have announced that Israel has been admitted into the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This means that citizens and nationals of Israel will be allowed to enter the United States in B-1 Visitor for Business status or B-2 Visitor for Pleasure status for up to 90 calendar days without first obtaining a B-1/B-2 nonimmigrant visa from a United States consulate. The online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application system will be updated to allow citizens and nationals of Israel to apply to travel to the United States under the VWP. An ESTA application must be filed at least 72 hours before the planned travel to the United States and an ESTA travel authorization is generally valid for two years.
Since eligibility for the VWP is based on reciprocity, all United States citizens will be allowed to apply for admission to Israel for up to 90 days for business, tourism, or transit without first obtaining an Israeli visa. Previously, United States citizens of Palestinian ancestry or with dual nationality in certain Middle Eastern countries often encountered difficulties when attempting to enter Israel.
Eligibility for the VWP is limited to a select number of countries that have met strict requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, border management and overstay rates and have a rate of nonimmigrant visitor visa refusals below 3% during the previous year. At present, forty countries participate in the VWP, including Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
Israeli nationals or citizens seeking to enter the United States in a status other than B Visitor (such as H-1B status) must first obtain a nonimmigrant visa in the appropriate category. Any Israeli nationals or citizens who hold valid B-1/B-2 visas may continue to use these to enter the United States and should be admitted for an appropriate period of stay, which may be longer or shorter than 90 days.
The DHS and State Department note that Israel’s designation for the VWP is part of an ongoing process, and that the United States will continue to monitor Israel’s implementation of the VWP requirements, including the reciprocity commitments previously made with respect to the admission of United States citizens to Israel. It is possible for a country’s VWP designation to be withdrawn for a failure to meet program requirements. This has happened to Argentina and Uruguay, which were removed from the VWP in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
Information on the VWP can be found at https://www.dhs.gov/visa-waiver-program